On the Origin and True Purpose of Ideologies
February 25, 2017
For some time now I have been a traveler among you, I have observed you and listened to you, and have encountered people professing some very contradictory belief systems, some very different IDEOLOGIES. What I find most curious is not the extreme degree to which ideologies seem capable of opposing one another, but rather the extreme importance which many seem to place on discovering the perfect one, for no ambition can be more fruitless for a rational person to endeavor towards. I do not mean, in calling it a fruitless endeavor for Rational People, to suggest that Rational People are above something which I am here proposing is far below the concern of any good Enlightened individual, no, I admonish the Rational Man not for wasting his precious time and attention but for attempting something, which, due to his very nature as a Rational being, will no doubt prove his ruin in the long run when he can no longer control himself in his speculative fervor and runs amok of ideas which he falsely believes himself to be the master of.
What Ideologies are even is something few seem really capable of articulating, which is surprising considering how so many online act as connoisseurs of the choicest and most obscure ones. That people, who love collecting and exploring strange ideologies, lack a coherent and complete model for conceptualizing the general process underlying their formation and emergence is concerning, and is something that we must quickly work to remedy if we’re to have any hope of saving Rational People everywhere from themselves.
The written works and manifestos upon which many of our modern ideologies are based possess a singularly speculative character that very easily deceives us as to their true source and origin. When one reads, for example, Karl Marx, perhaps the modern ideologue par excellence, one is not likely to encounter many particulars, only grand sweeping ideas which seek to encompass all of history in one flawless, unbroken mental stroke. It is not my main intention here to denigrate the works of Marx or anyone else for being speculative, as that is not to be considered a negative in itself, I only point it out because I believe the characteristically speculative method commonly employed by philosophers in their attempts to explicate their chosen ideologies gives rise to the common misconception that ideologies are of a purely mental and rational origin. The manifestos we peruse deal in such general terms that even a careful observer is easily misled into believing that ideologies come first from the mind without much recourse to the contingent trivialities of lived experience.
As a starting point perhaps it will be useful to begin with some definition of ideology upon which to expand. The following passage from David Hume seems to me as fine a starting point as any considering there has perhaps never been a more patient and careful observer of the phenomena of politics than him:
“As no party, in the present age, can well support itself, without a philosophical system of principles, annexed to its political or practical one; we accordingly find, that each of the factions, into which this nation is divided, has reared up a fabric of the former kind, in order to protect and cover that scheme of actions, which it pursues.”
Here we find political parties developing ideologies in order to “protect and cover” their actions, there is a component of functionality here that is central to the whole mystery. Ideologies do not precede the formation of parties, parties invent and customize ideologies to justify their coordinated scheme of political activity. This scheme of activity, furthermore, is nearly always motivated by the collective self-interest of factions which compose a given coalition, or party.
The whole procedure is the reverse of the one suggested by the airy and theoretical quality found in treatises on ideologies, as it is not the case that the rational political theorist postulates an ideology developed entirely in the seclusion of the realm of pure ideas, and then this is taken up by a large party of people who are all convinced by the force of Reason that theis ideology is the only correct one, but rather precisely the opposite, that a mass of individuals loosely connected by a bond of self-interest develop or adopt an Ideology in order to protect and cover the collective efforts to advance their position within society.
The ideologer, for his part, is not a disposable or interchangeable component. He is a shrewd observer of emerging and potential coalitions, and he means to to do coalitions he is sympathetic to (perhaps because he is a member) a good turn by providing them with a suitably ingenious way of self-conceptualizing as make the existing and potential members of a coalition feel the necessity of their alliance that much more acutely.
An unfortunate consequence of the ideologer’s labors however is that a Rational end (i.e. The Absolute) is set up in the place of the Practical end whose pursuit was the whole purpose of the coalition in the first place, namely the acquisition of rank, status, wealth and influence in society. Reason is a demanding mistress, who commands us always to discover a first cause and absolute end in order to securely close the circuit of logic underpinning the entire conceptual apparatus. This is never to be met with in actuality, but is only something that can be set up conditionally by Reason in order to satisfy itself. When ported to the reality of our activity these objects of speculation which Reason has hypothesized beguile us as we are nowhere to meet with them in experience no matter how assiduously we seek to uncover them. The End of History? Where is this? The chain of reasoning is only completed in idea, never in actuality.
It is this danger which the ideological thinker confronts most perilously when he engages in political speculation, as the speculative objects he theorizes are a mirage capable of completely deluding the coalition his ideology is meant to prop up, causing them to act in a way that is insidiously counterproductive to the improvement of their own immediate material situation. When the sub-parties which comprise a broader coalition are each asked to identify the physical object or state which corresponds to the Rational end in idea, they find that they each interpret the Rational end in diverging ways, each likely matching the pinnacle of their own advancement.
Recent history has furnished a good example of this misaction in practice, the loss of the Democratic Party in 2016. The Democratic Party intends to represent a coalition which developed in the mid-20th century, it may have represented different coalitions in the past, and outlived them, but the coalition it represents is of a more modern vintage: the Civil Rights coalition. Progressiveism, an ad hoc admixture of machine parts largely re-purposed from past systems, has developed as the defining ideology of the modern Democratic Civil Rights coalition. The purpose of this ideology is to protect and cover the tactics the coalition uses to promote itself via their systemic justification around a totalizing moral principle. The dream of the HISTORIC, the dream of the first black or woman president, to make history is the principle. This dream has become so overriding in importance as to delusively trump any practical measure designed to keep the coalition from falling apart, which could have involved running a more likeable (though less historic) candidate, or using rhetoric less antagonistic to those considered to be outside the coalition of minority actors seen holding hands beneath a rainbow in the dream dreamed by their ideology.
We must never lose sight of the Practical grounding of our political activity. Coalitions arise between very different groups of actors, tenuously connected by the prospect of mutual advancement, and their continuing alliance is fraught with the persistent danger of collapse and in need of constant mitigation from an overarching ideological superstructure. When we take what is suggested as the Rational end of our speculative systems as our primary ambition, we are likely to favor actions which, though they seem to us to advance the dream, are in reality only a wedge driven between the participating member parties, who will never be able to agree on the identity in actuality of the rational end which they all falsely believe they are commonly attempting to realize.